Write a compelling story

Write a compelling storyPeople learn by reading stories. But are your stories getting the result you want? We learned from the film industry to make a compelling story by introducing a problem, a solution and an enemy. Your story is the journey from the problem to the solution, documented in key points that form the paragraphs.

Organizations have been using story telling for quite a while but how do you know it has any results? If you’re only focusing on acquiring and publishing stories, you might get lost in producing input. The danger is that you invest a lot of time and effort that doesn’t pay back. One (of many) reasons could be that your audience is not reading your stories at all. It could be that you lost them after the first paragraph.

What makes a good story?

All good stories (Disney’s Snow White, The Lord Of The Rings, etc) start with a problem and an enemy is introduced. The story is about solving the problem and working toward a solution. The enemy is preventing an all-to-easy solution of the problem and is a guarantee for plot twists. Take any other story in mind and you’ll see it fits: problem, enemy, solution, steps to solution.

The steps to the solution are the key points, the takeaways, of your story. Each key point is something to remember and will form the paragraphs of your story, when you work it out. In this blog entry, all key points are marked in bold. This makes it easier to skip text and still capture the essence of the blog. Do you have much to share? Find the main key points and break them down. Next, do the same with the sub key points you’ve created.

Stick to the core, the essence of your story. Less is more. If a paragraph has no key points marked in bold, ask yourself: “Is this paragraph needed? Is it key to the story?”. For me, this is the biggest challenge. Also experts are challenged here not to bury the essence in too many details and paragraphs.

How to capture the attention of the audience?

Before story starts, you need to capture the attention of the audience. Create the setting for the story and make sure they can relate.

In most stories and movies the audience can relate to the main character and starts to “live” the story. The reader is compelled and is pulled into it. Remember sitting on the edge of your chair when Frodo almost lost his ring in the LOTR movie?

People have nowadays (too) much communication to read and they’re very scarce with giving anything their time and attention. You only have the first seconds when they start reading your story. Make sure that the “What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM) is captured in the very first paragraph of your text. The WIIFM contains the core of your story, the main reason to convince your reader why he should spend time in reading. You might consider it as a summary of your whole text. If this doesn’t trigger into reading, he’d never have read the full story. Consider it as an acid test for your story.

It might sound odd to give it all away in the very first paragraph of the text, but this is needed to gain interest. Check your local newspaper: they do it too: a nice title and the very first paragraph is the summary of the whole article. If the summary gets you interested, you read further. If you are interested, but you don’t have much time, you skip to the key points marked in bold. If you’re not interested, you check the title and summary of the next article.

When do I start?

So knowing all this, when do you start writing better stories? As of today!

1. Next time you write a story, start with answering following questions:

  • What is the problem?
  • What is the setting, the context?
  • What is the solution?
  • What are the steps to the solution? (these will become your key points)

If you find answers to these questions, you can write the summary of your story. Consider it as an elevator pitch: you need to pitch the story to somebody new and have only a few minutes of his time.

2. Write your story: elaborate your key points to create paragraphs.

3. Check your story and remove all information that’s not core to the problem or the solution. Strip it down to the bare essentials.

4. Mark the key takeaways in your paragraphs as bold.

Additional reading

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